Strange fruit | The Open College of the Arts
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Strange fruit

mental-health_1423725iMany of the projects and exercises in the visual arts courses with the OCA leave a great deal of room for you to experiment and develop your own responses to the issue of subject matter.  Suggestions are usually given for subjects that can easily be sourced near to home to underline the idea that you don’t necessarily need fantastic source materials to make a fantastic drawing – something which can be reassuring if you are dealing with limited mobility or otherwise restricted access to other places. Having said that, taking some time out to visit an inspirational place can lift your studies and give an exercise a new and energising angle, as well as filling your sketchbook with notes and ideas.

I would like to suggest that you consider locating an unusual museum in your local area for a research visit during 2016. Britain has some fantastically strange museums all over the place, often linked to local manufacturing or simply the result of a wealthy eccentric. Most of us have heard of the Pitt Rivers in Oxford with its totems and shrunken heads, and of the John Soames in the shadow of the British Museum but the list of off the wall hoards and displays is far reaching and there should be no need to travel  a great distance to access one for your next project.

Consider for example Cuckooland – a collection of cuckoo clocks in Tabley, Cheshire brought together by brothers Roman and Maz Piekarski over forty years since the age of 15.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ph5ZaR2nPU]

Or you could visit the dog collar museum in Leeds Castle which is confusingly in Kent. It’s the largest collection of dog collars in the world.

The Museum of Mental Health at Fieldhead Hospital includes a padded cell amongst other exhibits from the West Riding pauper lunatic asylum built in 1818.

Then there is the Lock Museum in Willenhall, the Pram Museum in Pailton, the Lawnmower museum in Trerice House, the House of Marbles in Devon and the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill (which incidentally houses the Robert Opie collection, apparently the largest collection of packaging and related material in the world.) Don’t forget the natural ‘museum’s as well. The Harcourt arboretum in Oxford is just one of many living tree museums dotted about the UK.

Perhaps we could use this blog post as a repository for information on strange and interesting museums and collections that you know of that could be shared with other students? I look forward to the results filtering through to assessment portfolios in the months to come!


Posted by author: Emma Drye
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9 thoughts on “Strange fruit

  • This is a great idea to add to the New Year OCA resolutions page! I love museums great and small, and remember a wonderful day spent with the collection of fairground animals that used to be at Wookey Hole, in the 70s. I have not really had a proper day with a sketchbook in a museum since. When I visited Pitt Rivers for the first time last summer, some generous soul had left two full Pitt Rivers sketchbooks right there, on one of the cases. What a wonderful idea! And now – my own contribution: a little museum in an old school at Bersham Iron Works near Wrexham tells the story of a major innovation in the manufacture of canons in the 18th Century. By keeping the drill motionless and revolving the newly cast solid canon they were able to make cannon barrels that shot a great deal more straight and increased the predictability of where the ball would land! Who would have thought it?

  • I know it is not quirky or out of the way, but I love drawing in the British Museum. Artists think of visiting the great galleries in London but for drawing the BM would be my first choice and second would be split between the V&A and the Natural Hist Museum. However, for an undisturbed sketch, the Natural History Museum in Tring is terrific.

  • I’m sure everyone has heard of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, SE10, but not so well known is its Print Room, and huge collection of exceptional paintings which just happen to feature the sea and ships. Up the hill in the park is the Royal Observatory – plenty of timepieces to draw, and astronomy sessions to attend.
    At the moment the NMM special exhibition is about Samuel Pepys. Their exhibitions are always of a very high standard but this one excels.
    Also in Greenwich, close by, is the Fan Museum. Well worth a visit for sheer artistry and variety and in a stunning Georgian house. You’ll want to sketch the fans.

  • Here’s another – while you’re in south east London, don’t miss The Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, SE23. Words fail me to describe this wonderfully eclectic place, founded by a tea planter – it houses collections of almost everything – so I will just give you the website, http://www.horniman.ac.uk to browse. You could spend weeks drawing in there – I never want to leave.

  • Edinburgh and surrounding area has some fascinating museums. As well as the National Museum of Scotland which has amazing machinery and artifacts (although I did prefer it before the revamp when it was more Victorian), there is the Writers Museum, the Museum of Childhood, the Museum of Flight (East Lothian) and the National Mining Museum (Midlothian), to name but a few.

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